Robert Bellah, the Sociologist of American Religion Who Went against the Secular Grain

At a time when the social sciences were increasingly indifferent or even hostile to religion, the American sociologist Robert Bellah—who died ten years ago—was intensely focused on the role of ritual and belief in shaping human life. Perhaps the most prominent scholar in his field during the 1960s and 70s, Bellah is best known for his analyses of what he called the “American civil religion.” He was, in Matthew Rose’s estimation, the last great thinker of the religious left, and his admirers included liberal politicians like Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter as well as the conservative Catholic thinkers Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak. Rose writes:

Bellah strongly disagreed [with those who felt] that America’s lack of an established church and its freedom of religion made it a secular society. America was and remained a country with a sacred center on which the legitimacy of its ideals and institutions depended. Bellah called this America’s “civil religion.” He defined the term sociologically. It described the rituals, symbols, and language of civic life, not the private beliefs of individuals.

Bellah maintained that, when viewed from this perspective, America clearly possessed . . . its own civic rituals, liturgical calendar, and holy documents, as well as its own saints, prophets, martyrs, hymns, and pilgrimage sites. Bellah insisted that this national cult’s celebration was not purely ceremonial. Nor did it worship what the sociologist Will Herberg had dismissively termed the “American way of life.” “The American civil religion is not the worship of the American nation,” Bellah wrote, “but an understanding of the American experience in the light of ultimate and universal reality.”

But he also denied that America was a “Christian nation,” even if its civic life was suffused with biblical symbols and themes. America’s civil religion was its ingenious solution for religious pluralism, allowing people of different traditions to unite in pursuit of shared purposes. It did not settle political disagreements, of course, or prevent injustices. But according to Bellah, it provided the moral grammar through which Americans of different backgrounds and faiths could discuss the meaning of their common life.

Read more at Commonweal

More about: American Religion, Civil religion, Sociology

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship